Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Saigon By Night

4 January 2011: 5:30pm 

After a quick birdbath and reapplication of lipstick, we're ready to head off into the night. We've taken Lam's advice and ordered a VinaSun taxi - apparently they are clean, friendly and don't rip you off. The driver arrives and I show him Lam's map, with the Water Puppet Theatre marked on it. There is a furious exchange of words in Vietnamese between the cab driver and the concierge and we have absolutely no idea what's going on. It transpires that on occasions when the tourist numbers are down, the water puppet theatre doesn't put on a show. Apparently they need at least 10 people to run a show and if there are fewer than that, the show doesn't happen. The driver must have been a little wary about going down to the theatre if the show wasn't proceeding. Lam was right, and it only cost us just over $1AUD for the ride downtown. It's almost embarrassing how cheap it is. Luckily, there was a large group of people standing outside the theatre and we're good to go for the evening's entertainment. We buy our tickets (for the princely sum of about $5) and, as we won't be able to get inside for another 20 minutes or so, we decide to head down the road in search of a drink to sustain us. We have to cross the road, which was a treat in itself. I've learned through bruised experience that the best way to cross the road in Saigon is to step out, maintaining a slow and consistent pace. The bikes and traffic will actually go around you if you don't panic and stay calm. Trying to dart in and out will only get you killed (as I almost learned myself last time). I link arms with Curry and Caramel (as the girls are now known as - Lam couldn't quite get the pronunciation correct) and step out into the road. A tsunami of motorbikes comes towards us and the girls nearly have a heart attack. I'm laughing like a loon thinking this is just the best fun, but the girls are beside themselves. Finally, we make it across the road without incident, until we get to the curb, where we are almost killed by a man on a bicycle who didn't see us. Hilarious. The traffic in Saigon is well well organised and choreographed chaos. We find a little coffee bar and go in. It's air conditioned which immediately makes it far more attractive than it would otherwise have been. Air conditioning makes everything attractive in Saigon - a bit like a nightclub at 3:00am when you've had just enough to drink to make even the most unsuitable person look like a decent prospect. We order drinks - Curry and I have a Baileys and Caramel orders a Dirty Martini. The drinks cost a King's ransom - $2 each. Seriously. The earth spins gently on its axis as we ponder whether we could just buy the bottles and consume them before we have to get back to the theatre. The girl behind the bar looks about 12 and looks like a Japanese schoolgirl. It was a little bit weird and creepy, but for $2, we didn't care. We head back to the theatre, crossing the road again without incident. We take our seats and are pleased to be seated in the second front row. The show is just beautiful and the puppeteers really are very skilled. There's lots of splashing of water and I get some great photos of it all. At the very end of the show, two young men rush to the front of the theatre with a backpack and drop it on the ground. They quickly start pulling out what transpires to be a large banner. The three of us simultaneously think, "Oh dear God, there's going to be a political protest", and we sit there in flight or fight mode waiting to see what is going to happen. However, when the banner is finally unfurled, what we read is "Lindsay, Will you marry me?" A quick hush descends over the whole theatre as we madly look around. Lindsay is actually sitting just across the aisle from us - a fact we discover when her beau (who was very hot just quietly) drops to one knee, produces a box with a spectacular ring in it and proposes. Lindsay gasps in horrified pleasure and says yes. The whole theatre erupts into spontaneous applause and cheering. It was absolutely gorgeous. We all go over and congratulate the happy couple. 

As we arrive outside, it's lashing down and we ask the people at the box office whether they'll call us a cab. We want to go to the Majestic Hotel for champagne and a bite to eat. The girl in the box office politely but firmly declines our request. Caramel whips out into the rain to see if any of the taxis in the carpark are free for hire. A man suddenly appears asking if we want a taxi and we gratefully fall into the dryness and chill of his car. As we start driving down the road, we realise that this is not a VinaSun taxi, and Lam's advice comes back to haunt us. The meter in this cab spins all too quickly for our liking, and the fare that should have cost us a maximum of $2 ends up costing about $7. Still a miniscule amount, but the principle is the same. Rogue cab drivers are everywhere and must be avoided at all costs. To make it worse, the driver tries out his almost non-existent seductive charms on me. "You are very very beautiful madame. Are you married?" Yet again, I am grateful for my fabulous diamond ring I bought myself in Dubai, and which I wear on my wedding finger. I affectionately call it The Scarecrow because it does often scare off vermin. "Yes!" I say firmly. "He is very lucky man" says the rogue. "Indeed he is" I say. Caramel and Curry join in from the back- "Yes, he is lucky and she tells him every day". We quietly have a little chuckle to ourselves - not only are we being ripped off, we're being hit upon at the same time. It's still lashing with rain and we get to the Majestic Hotel. It truly is Majestic by name and majestic by nature. On a future visit to Vietnam, I absolutely must come and stay here. It's too too divine - lots of Art Deco and Art Nouveau influence and utterly, utterly opulent. We order Moet - it's only $60 - and a light meal. Just gorgeous. After dinner we decide to cross the road to the river, which is just outside the hotel. Caramel gets stuck whilst Curry and I traverse the bike ballet and has to be helped across the road like a little old lady by the concierge. Curry and I are in bits laughing at her but it's all good in the end. We take a beautiful stroll along the river. After the rain, it has cooled somewhat and it's very pleasant down by the waterfront.We take more photos of neon signs and the big river steamers packed full of tourists and people enjoying themselves. Once we've completed our constitutional, we decide that today has been full enough of frenetic activity, and it's now time for bed. We locate the nearest VinaSun taxi and are delighted to find it has a lady driver. She was beautiful and gentle and was an excellent driver. We arrive back at our hotel and say goodnight. A nice shower, a foot rub and it's face first into the sheets again. Shattered but sated. A most excellent day and night.  

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